Representative Gail Whitsett

Jul 25, 2015 — by: Rep. Gail Whitsett

Throughout recorded history, the Klamath Basin has experienced periodic meteorological droughts lasting from one to several years. That reality is normal for high mountain valleys located east of the Cascade summit. Traditionally, water users have worked together with good success to get through those drought years.

However, during the past twenty years, the Basin has experienced persistent, ongoing and worsening man-caused droughts. Water that has been stored and used for irrigation for more than a century has been reallocated under the public trust doctrine by our state and federal governments for alleged higher and better uses.

Make no mistake!

The forced change of the use of water from irrigation to grow food and fiber to in-stream flows for the benefit of fish is the overarching cause of the persistent water shortages in the Upper Klamath River Basin. Our state and federal governments have accomplished ALL of these changes regarding the use of water entirely through the application of administrative actions.

Those changes are ongoing!

The Klamath Tribes have made their “call” to protect the instream water rights given to them administratively by the Oregon Water Resources Department. This action effectively prohibits the diversion of any water for irrigation in four entire watersheds. This represents the third consecutive annual Tribal “call” to prevent the use of surface water for irrigation in those four watersheds.

Moreover, the Upper Basin “settlement agreement” includes the permanent “retirement” of 30,000 acre feet of irrigation water to be delivered to Upper Klamath Lake. That concession will permanently dewater about 25 square miles of fertile crop and pasture land. The “retired” water was intended to enhance instream flow in the tributaries to Upper Klamath Lake AND to provide more water for the Bureau of Reclamation’s 1,400 family Klamath Project located downstream.

Last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service administratively “took” all of that 30,000 acre feet of water for the alleged benefit of Coho salmon in the Klamath River. Of that, 15,000 acre feet in the spring is to be used to flush Coho smolts downriver and 15,000 acre feet in the fall is to ensure adequate flows for the Coho to migrate up-river.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Services, the only alleged alternative to this ongoing theft of irrigation water is to prohibit salmon fishing in the Klamath River this fall.

According to the Service’s administrative rules, the prohibition of fall salmon fishing in the Klamath River would require the Service to shut down salmon fishing on the entire southern Oregon and northern California coasts!

The new government motto should read “Never enough."


This article originally published on June 10, 2015 and is reproduced with permission from Representative Whitsett’s Office.